Atlanta’s at an interesting crossroads with their special teams units. They have plenty of players under contract who will play on special teams, obviously, with players like Richie Grant, Mykal Walker and Avery Williams figuring to be core special teamers for years to come. In terms of their specialists, though—kicker, punter, long snapper and returner—there’s only one player under contract in 2022 who figures to have a set role. The Falcons will be choosing between bringing the whole band back, prioritizing someone like Younghoe Koo and letting others walk, or starting fresh.
The Falcons have a couple of big decisions to make that we’ll touch on shortly, but let’s start with the one guy the Falcons have under contract: Avery Williams.
CB Avery Williams - $885,038
If Cordarrelle Patterson doesn’t return, Williams may also take on kick returner duties. He hasn’t blown anyone’s socks off in this role this year, but when he’s gotten effective blocking in front of him, Williams has looked like a dangerous returner. It’s worth remembering that he scored nine touchdowns between kick and punt returns in college and he should lock down this job for a long, long time.
Now to talk decisions, because there’s a few major ones looming.
Let’s start with kicker. Younghoe Koo is a restricted free agent, meaning he will cease to be hyper-affordable in 2021. There’s no way the team can offer him an original round tender given the state of NFL kicking, so they’ll need to slap a second or even first rounder tender on him, which OvertheCap projects to be $3.9 million and $5.48 million, respectively. Koo’s been good enough to warrant that—he’s 14th in the NFL in field goal percentage, having missed just two kicks, and is one of just six kickers to hit all his extra points—but we can’t be 100% sure that the Falcons with their cap struggles and retooling roster won’t think about paying less at the position. I hope not, but let’s acknowledge that there’s at least a whisper of a doubt there until we see the team’s plans in the offseason.
At punter, the team is almost certain to have someone new on board. The Falcons have cycled through a bunch of options already this year, having pitted Dom Maggio and Sterling Hofrichter against one another, ending up with Cameron Nizialek coming out of training camp and now settling in with 39-year-old Dustin Colquitt. Whether it’s a veteran signing or an undrafted free agent, it would surprise me if the team turned to Colquitt again, but punters can obviously credibly play into their 40s and he’s fared well.
Then there’s long snapper. Josh Harris has held down that role since 2012 in Atlanta and is both one of the most reliable men in the business and a friend of Falcoholic Live, which argues for keeping him around. As is the case with Koo, it’s possible the Falcons choose to pinch a few pennies at the position instead of bringing back a stalwart. As is the case with Koo, I don’t think that’d be particularly wise, but we must acknowledge the possibility that it could happen.
Finally, there’s Cordarrelle Patterson. The Falcons will obviously be interested in bringing him back if they possibly can, and he’ll hold down the fort as a kick returner in all likelihood while being an offensive weapon if he does return. If not, the role likely goes to Williams. Patterson’s case will be interesting because he’s been so good for Atlanta that his value has risen significantly, but it’s unclear if he’ll be interested in landing the largest possible payday he can get or sticking in Atlanta where he’s been thriving.
This a long-winded way of saying that while the team simply bringing back Koo, Colquitt, Harris and Patterson can’t be ruled out, major changes are a seeming possibility given that we’re still figuring out this new front office and this new front office is still figuring out how best to build the roster. At minimum, I’d expect a new punter in Atlanta for the third straight season, and we should at least consider the possibility that the changes will be more sweeping than that.